Last Saturday on March 20, Anakbayan Toronto participated in the National Day of Action to Free Them All. The action was organized by grassroots organizations such as Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project, Keep 6ix, Climate Justice Toronto, Palestinian Youth Movement, Barton Solidarity, People’s Defence, Malton People’s Movement and others. The rally was held at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton and Toronto South Detention Centre to express solidarity with prisoners and bring attention to their experiences inside the facility.
The first case of COVID-19 within a Canadian prison was over a year ago. Since then, there have been more than 6,700 cases linked to prisons and jails. COVID-19 cases continue to increase due to the lack of testing and reporting in prisons. Despite its $2.6 billion budget, the prison system continues to neglect prisoners’ health and welfare.
Ontario detention facilities neglect prisoners and do not make an effort to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. Healthy inmates are housed together with sick inmates. There is a lack of sanitary supplies, adequate food, fresh air, and ventilation. All of these factors have led to increased deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses.
The situation of prisoners in the Philippines is likewise dire.
In the Philippines, the prison population outweighs the facilities’ capacity by 500%. Duterte’s “War on Drugs” and counter-insurgency programs have only led to more arrests. Instead of receiving appropriate aid from the government during the pandemic, the people are met with a militarized lockdown. Many have been arrested for breaking the COVID-19 lockdown. Hundreds more are political prisoners: activists from various sectors including Indigenous leaders and advocates, human rights defenders, journalists, and labour leaders.
We must hold governments in Canada and the Philippines for the unjust treatment of prisoners.
In the Philippines, we call for:
- Sufficient aid during the pandemic: free mass testing and financial support for the people.
- Defund counter-insurgency programs like the NTF-ELCAC and reallocate funds towards pandemic aid for the people
- Free All Political Prisoners!
- Oust the US-Duterte regime!
Anakbayan Toronto echoes the following demands for Ontario detention facilities, correctional centres, and prisons:
- Immediate releases with adequate support to ensure housing, food, and income support;
- Immediate Public Health measures implemented to improve conditions inside and address prisoners well-documented concerns;
- Equitable access to healthcare for all prisoners;
- Immediate action to address and respond to the numerous accounts of human rights abuses (i.e. punishment tests, excessive lockdowns); and
- Immediate action to address the overdose crisis.